Most Effective Methods to Control Fleas

A Multi-Faceted Approach to Flea Control

Dog scratching ear
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Fleas have a complex, four-stage life cycle. If you want to get rid of pets and keep them from coming back, you have to address every stage of this cycle. Spraying once is not enough. Just be careful not to overdo flea control: Too many toxic products in and around your pet can be harmful or even fatal.

Flea Control on Your Pet

Following package directions is essential when using over-the-counter products and medications. Only use products on the species for which they're intended. Cats, in particular, are very sensitive to drugs and chemicals, so be sure to read all labels carefully. Don't use multiple products at the same time without consulting your veterinarian.

Even when following instructions on flea treatment labels, pets can have adverse reactions to flea products. Call your vet immediately if you notice your pet behaving strangely or with any kind of skin irritation.

Flea Baths for Pets

A flea shampoo, or "flea bath," is a good first attack on adult fleas for the pet that has large numbers of fleas visible on its body. Cats can be difficult to bathe. It is important to realize that a flea shampoo is not intended for lasting control.

Many people are surprised when they see fleas and it was "only a week ago" that the pet had a flea bath. Shampoos are only effective for a day or less. They leave little residual chemical on the animal when properly used.

When to Use Flea Dips

Flea dips are strong chemical rinses to rid animals not only of fleas but mites and ticks as well. Dips aren’t recommended unless absolutely necessary, as in the case of a mite infestation. Dips last approximately two weeks, and that's an awful lot of chemical residue to leave on an animal, so use with care, when other options haven't been effective. Flea shampoos and dips will treat for adult fleas.

Flea Collars and Powders

Flea collars work one of two ways: by emitting a toxic (to fleas, anyway) gas, or by being absorbed into the affected animal's subcutaneous fat layer. The toxic gas is usually only effective in the immediate area of the head and neck. The collars that absorb into the subcutaneous fat are much more effective. Flea collars are effective for adult fleas, but not very useful for larva.

Flea powders and sprays offer short-term protection from fleas, and with some products, from ticks and mites as well. Most flea powders and sprays are only effective for adult fleas; some offer additional flea protection by inhibiting flea egg and larval development.

Spot-On Flea Treatments

Spot-on treatments are applied between the shoulder blades of the pet and typically last about one month. These treatments are effective for adult fleas, and some include ingredients to inhibit the larva from emerging from the flea egg, while others are active against larval development as well.

Treatments Against Flea Larva

Flea pills work by stopping the larva from emerging from the flea egg. There is a version available as an injectible medication for cats. leas ingest the blood of animals on these medications, and the female fleas then lay eggs that are unable to hatch.

These medications do not kill adult fleas, but can break the flea life cycle and stop the flea problem when used in conjunction with treatments to address adult fleas.

Consult your veterinarian whenever you're using more than one flea treatment at a time, to ensure there are no adverse reactions when the medications are combined.

Flea Control for Your House and Yard

Only about 10 percent of the flea population (mainly the adults) are on your pet. The flea eggs, larvae, pupa, and the few adults that reside in the carpeting, bedding, and living areas make up approximately 90 percent of the flea population. Neglecting this population of fleas will ensure that the flea problem will continue and worsen over time.

To control fleas in your house and yard, you'll need a coordinated attack. Here's what to include:

  • Daily vacuuming is crucial for overall flea eradication. This will pick up (and get rid of) adults, eggs, larvae, and pupae before they develop. Putting a flea collar in the vacuum bag and emptying the bag frequently are also important; otherwise, the fleas will hatch, develop, and leave the vacuum to re-infest the living quarters. Dispose of the vacuum bag properly and frequently.
  • Wash all bedding, clothing, and removable furniture covers at least weekly.
  • Apply insecticide to your home and yard using non-toxic diatomaceous earth (DE), foggers and flea bombs, or treatments by a professional exterminator. Follow all instructions very carefully; remove all pets, people, and cover all food in the environment before applying insecticide.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.